Trump - The Presidential Precedents

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01Andrew Jackson20170116

Adam Smith compares Trump's win to past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change.

On at least five previous occasions, a candidate has been elected President who promised a crunching 180 degree turnabout in policy.

Each man was swept into power by people who had felt themselves excluded or scorned by the previous administration - and each inspired similar fear and loathing.

And in all five of these cases, the winning revolutionary candidate appealed to the "silent majority", or to "the great body of the people", attacking "elites" and feeding conspiracy theories. And they were not all men of the right. What's more, all five won a second term with a thumping majority.

So in this series, Adam revisits the arrival in the White House of each of these Presidents - and examine what their fate can tell us about what awaits America today.

Adam begins the series in 1828, with the victory of Andrew Jackson, a duellist and Indian-fighter, born in poverty and raised in the frontier West.

To the east coast establishment he was an uncouth demagogue, to his supporters he was the tribune of the people, the embodiment of white masculinity.

When he was inaugurated in 1829, Jackson invited anyone who fancied a cup of grog to drop by the White House - and they did, ripping up curtains to take bits home as souvenirs. In office, Jackson up-ended the financial system by dismantling the Bank of the United States (which he depicted as an anaconda sucking money from the people), causing a financial panic. He flouted the Supreme Court, allegedly responding to a ruling in favour of Native Americans trying to protect their land, "(Chief Justice) Marshall has made his judgement, now let him enforce it!"

Jackson was dubbed 'King Andrew I' by his enemies, but to his supporters his willingness to veto laws passed by Congress or ignore the courts, was the right kind of authoritarianism - on behalf of the people.

People still call themselves "Jacksonians" today. When Newt Gingrich wanted to reassure people during the 2016 campaign, he said Trump would be not be any more dangerous than Jackson.

Series features contributions from: HW Brands, Eric Foner, Eric Rauchway, Heather Richardson

Producer: Phil Tinline.

02Abraham Lincoln20170117

Historian Adam Smith compares Trump's win to past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change.

In the 1850s, Abraham Lincoln's new Republican Party promised a new kind of politics, with candidates "fresh from the loins of the people" who would sweep away the old establishment, the cronyism and corruption of the Democratic Party and its collusion with the slave states of the South.

To his enemies, Lincoln's election in 1860 was utterly intolerable. He called slavery wrong, he wanted to stop its extension, he pledged to return to the revolutionary values of the founding fathers (as he saw them) and set the institution of slavery on the path to extinction. Parts of the country, and demographic groups, who had been the outsiders of American politics, suddenly had a winner.

Lincoln was a hugely successful revolutionary president at a massive cost. He was so polarising that eleven states seceded and civil war resulted. But Lincoln won re-election and by the time he was assassinated he had reunified the country on his own terms. His Republican Party dominated national politics for the next 50 years.

Series features contributions from: HW Brands, Eric Foner, Eric Rauchway, Heather Richardson

Producer: Phil Tinline.

03Warren Harding And Franklin Roosevelt20170118

Adam Smith compares Trump's win to the victories of past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change.

In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt swept to power promising strong government action amid economic crisis.

He was born rich and grew up in the social elite. But FDR played on populist themes in his 1932 landslide win against incumbent Herbert Hoover at the height of the Great Depression. Roosevelt promised a "New Deal" but said little about what that would actually mean. He won because he tapped into a desire to get rid of the people who had been in power when the economy crashed.

At times Roosevelt ran against Wall St and the special interests. He was painted as a dangerous demagogue, even a dictator. And he was shaky on the Constitution and civil liberties - he engaged in court packing, as well as massive expansion of executive authority.

FDR offered action - ANY action - and hope. His new coalition of blue collar workers, African Americans (where they could vote) and urban intellectuals was an enduring one. The meaning of his revolution altered several times after 1932, eventually developing a Keynesian rationale which had not been present at the beginning - an approach Trump is now echoing. But the stock of images and the emotions he appealed to made him the most electorally successful president ever.

And Adam also explores the parallels between Trump and a President who was the political opposite of FDR - Warren G. Harding, whose 1920 promise totake the country back to 'normalcy' finds an echo in Trump's 'America First' approach.

Series features contributions from: HW Brands, Eric Foner, Eric Rauchway, Heather Richardson

Producer: Phil Tinline.

04Richard Nixon20170119

Historian Adam Smith compares Trump's win to the victories of past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change.

In the mid-1960s, Lyndon Johnson had forced through epoch-making civil rights legislation.

But it led to a deeply-felt reaction, driven both by racism and working-class cultural resentment. There was a widespread feeling that the radical left was transforming America - from school curricula to women's rights via new liberal approaches to crime and policing.

In the 1968 presidential election, two figures competed to be the champion of the backlash - both of whose campaigns find echoes in Trump's last year.

George Wallace, the segregationist ex-Governor of Alabama, took his barnstorming independent campaign into America's industrial north and found wide support among white working class voters who normally backed the Democrats.

Richard Nixon pursued a subtler version of this approach as the Republican candidate. He was less charismatic and outspoken than Wallace - but he rode the 'backlash' all the way to the White House.

Trump, Adam suggests, has revived elements of both men's appeal, from Wallace's plays on race to Nixon's appeal to what he called the 'silent majority'.

Series features contributions from: HW Brands, Eric Foner, Eric Rauchway, Heather Richardson

Producer: Phil Tinline.

05Ronald Reagan20170120

Historian Adam Smith compares Trump's win to the victories of past Presidents who divided America even as they promised radical change.

When Ronald Reagan won in 1980, consternation swept parts of America. Here was a wayward 70 year old, running on an anti-politics, anti-Washington ticket - and known mainly, insisted his opponents, for his mix of onscreen entertaining and extremist views. Some feared giving him power over America's nuclear weapons could lead to catastrophe.

Yet today, Reagan is often cited as being rather more moderate than current Republicans. And many credit his approach to the communist bloc with contributing not to the end of the world but the end of the Cold War.

In this programme Adam considers the degree to which Trump has rebuilt the Reagan white working-class 'base' - and what actually happened to Reagan, his attitude to government and his radical policy platform once he was in power. Can this teach us anything about the possibilities for the age of President Trump?

Series features contributions from: HW Brands, Eric Foner, Eric Rauchway, Heather Richardson

Producer: Phil Tinline.